July 12, 2005

Initial reflections on the Gathering

NOTE:  This first post is mostly taken from a comment I made on Claire's Spiritual Journeys blog.
In one sentence, here is my summary of FGC's 2005 Gathering in Blacksburg, Virginia:

     Woo-hoo, and yay for the Spirit so alive among us!

The busyness of the Gathering sometimes can crowd my awareness to the point of missing Opportunities to pursue, and be attentive to, the movement of the Spirit, but this Gathering was notably different for me: I had to cope with having tendonitis in my ankle.

The tendonitis slowed me down significantly so that I ended up not going to several plenaries; not going to several Meetings for Worship hosted by Friends for LGBTQ Concerns nor going to events hosted by Friends of Color (the loss of which all saddened me for having missed them); and not going to scheduled or impromptu events that began after 9:00 pm.

Nevertheless, there were gifts that I received as a result of slowing down, which primarily were conversations and get-togethers I otherwise would not have had:

• a conversation with a Friend about the complexities (for lack of a better word) that FGC has encountered with the responses to the cancellation of the sweatlodge workshop at the 2004 Gathering;

• participating in an intergenerational dialogue that included lifting up the need for older Friends, young adult Friends, and young Friends to find ways to engage together in items of business that impact the respective groups; and

• attending Meeting for Worship that was sponsored by high school Friends. I left that worship space wanting other tender-hearted adult Friends to clear their schedules for next year's worship.

Quaker identity workshop

As expected, the workshop I had put together for the week needed most of my attention during Gathering. I needed to be attentive to facilitating large and small group discussion, introducing exercises, and answering questions for more than 2-and-a-half-hours each day for five days.

A large part of the work was to hold the space, day after day, in the worshipful context of carrying out a Big Experiment. I had little idea how one piece might connect with another, and I was conscious of just being faithful in offering whatever the very next piece in front of me was.

At one point, first thing on Wednesday morning, the group made it clear to me that they were eager to return to an exercise that we had only touched on the day before. It didn't take much to reconfigure the activities for the day and the remainder of the week, and WOW, did they sink their teeth into the exploration of what goes into making up a Quaker identity!
UPDATE: Here are links about the workshop experience itself:
The first long entry
The second long entry

Hunger for a God-based or Christ-based Quakerism

Many Friends in the workshop indicated they chose the workshop because the description included the note that the "presenter's Quakerism is God-based; workshop draws on that orientation."

While there is relief in being able to talk openly about our belief in God, I must acknowledge the gift of knowing and talking with nontheist Friends: I believe we hone each other's thinking, inviting one another to become more articulate in and expressive of our faith and of what we believe. And it is becoming more and more clear to me as well, that what matters is how we live our lives: Are we loving? Are we kind? Do we work for reconciliation and healing? Do we work for peace? Do we live peaceably?

Also, borrowing from a tradition in my worship group, there was a growing sense of spiritual power each day as we took time to worship and reflect on the quality of worship we had just experienced. Friends affirmed the sense of connectedness and Presence, and I was pleased by the response of Friends when I explained that if we have trouble articulating these things among one another—Friends who have experienced months if not years of worship—how can we expect to convey and articulate to newcomers and younger people coming up in our meetings our deep faith and sense of the Living Presence among us?

There is much more to share, but for now let me stop here, catch up a bit on my rest, and return with more news of the Gathering.



Joe G. said...

I am not surprised that people chose your workshop because of your identifier as being "God-oriented". It raises the issue why people feel a need for a particular group to experience that amongst we unprogrammed Quakers.

I hope you recover soon from your tendinitis.

And I look forward to reading more about your experiences and observations on Gathering.

Rich in Brooklyn said...
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Rich in Brooklyn said...

Thanks for this account. This year I really did want to attend Friends General Conference for the first time in my life (not just the first time that I would have attended, but the first time that I even wanted to). One of the main reasons was the prospect of attending your workshop, and another was the prospect of actually meeting some of the other Quaker bloggers I've been reading lately. I couldn't make it because of conflicting needs in my family, so it's good to at least be able to read about it.

Meanwhile, I've been busy writing and posting about a topic that seems to overlap with what you discussed. The result is a post with the somewhat ungainly title What Is It With the Quakers and Jesus Christ?.
I was just about to say that I'd like to get your reaction to that post, but when I went to look at it and get its URL I saw that you have now indeed posted a comment that looks quite thoughtful. I look forward to reading it. I would also be interested in responses from any of the non-theist Friends who may run across either your blog or mine.

Richard Accetta-Evans

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks for your observations, and greetings from Des Moines, where the Friends United Meeting triennial sessions start tomorrow.